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The advice to the Dunedin City Council was part of a commentary by University of Otago economist Prof Nathan Berg — who holds the DCC professorial chair in entrepreneurship — on a First Retail Group Ltd report on the council’s Octagon Experience pedestrianisation trials from January 27 to March 23.
Prof Berg’s commentary focuses on the evidence used in both reports and the language used by city planners, but also offers commentary on the council’s apparent long-term objective of reducing the number of cars in Dunedin’s central business district.
"Clear communication about the objective of reducing automobiles and getting Dunedin residents out of cars (rather than ‘modal choice’ and ‘active transport’) would go a long way toward building good faith in direct communication with all stakeholders.
"Inflexible restrictions on automobiles run counter to advocates’ stated goals on the natural environment, public health, wellbeing and especially inequality, as the proposed restrictions will hit families on low incomes, the elderly and those living with chronic illness the hardest."
He found population density was perhaps the most important city characteristic for evaluating and forecasting the likely effects of pedestrianisation.
"Successes with pedestrianisation generally have done so in cities with population density 40 times or greater than Dunedin’s."
As Prof Berg’s and First Retail’s respective evaluation reports on the pedestrian trials, published by the council last week, provided somewhat divergent evaluations, both parties were asked to comment on the differences in the findings of their respective reports.
The reports are to be used in planning for the George St upgrade "and other major projects" — and Prof Berg’s 35-page response noted negative effects of pedestrianisation on city-centre businesses could be felt a kilometre away from the car-free zone this summer. It went on to say removing cars from the road to further carbon-neutral goals would have diminishing returns over time as initiatives were under way to reduce vehicle emissions, and limiting automobiles in Dunedin was "a ‘solution’ without a well-defined problem".
"Urban design that aims to create more traffic congestion and increase the transit time between most pairs of locations in Dunedin should be reconsidered," Prof Berg writes.
The First Retail commentary — a five-page report — summarises the consultancy’s local and regional knowledge, tourism and retail experience, and the scope of its evaluation of the pedestrian trials.
In defence of its data’s reliability and authenticity, the First Retail commentary notes it uses the same Marketview data used by Statistics New Zealand and others.
It also comments on a number of variables affecting the pedestrianisation trials.
"Like-for-like statistical comparisons in assessing the Octagon Experience are challenging because of significant variables and situations without precedent that data alone cannot identify or quantify," the report states.
"The First Retail Group report balances validated data with insight into trends, markets intelligence and behaviours that come from time spent on the ground during the trials and knowledge of wider dynamics influencing performance."
The council will discuss the Octagon Experience evaluation reports tomorrow.
The commentaries are due to be formally released today, the Otago Daily Times understands.
The ODT obtained copies of the commentaries late on Friday.